Racism isn’t a problem that can be solved from afar. What we see depends on where we sit. The closer we get, not only can we better see the problem, we can feel it. The more we feel it, the more we are compelled to care enough to be a part of the solution.
Let me start by saying I am a white woman. It shouldn’t take marrying a black man for me to fully empathize with the suffering black people experience daily, but the combination of our wedding and 2020 brought the problem to life for me as I’d never seen it before. It became clearer than ever—God calls me to use every advantage I have to speak out against racial injustice.
I sat next to my husband on the couch sobbing; my chest felt like it was splitting in two. We had just finished watching the movie “Queen and Slim.” If you’ve seen it, you know. And if you haven’t, I strongly recommend it, but not unless you have a tissue box nearby.
The premise of the story is that a black man and woman are driving back from a first date when they get pulled over. Basically, they end up having to defend themselves against cops that are unjustly roughing them up, and the man kills a police officer. The rest of the movie follows the couple while they’re on the run, and SPOILER ALERT, both characters are shot and killed by police at the end.
Right before COVID struck, Calvin and I began 2020 by getting married—a black man and a white woman who follow God. As an empath, not only was I feeling the pain of the movie characters, but I also couldn’t stop thinking, “that could be my husband.”
And I. Could. Not. Stop. Crying.
As a follower of God, I knew I needed to invite Jesus into the uncomfortable space. I tried to embody him by crying out to Him with my fear and anxiety. I knew I needed to stop holding back my emotions and let them truly burst forth instead of following the safer method of suppressing them. And, I need to listen to and love others different than me and speak out against injustice.
All of that is a lot easier said than done, but something about this moment in this movie compelled me to say, I can’t put it off any longer.
But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going because the darkness has blinded them.
Jesus was not silent about injustice. He didn’t fall into the status quo; he challenged it (Matthew 21:12-13.) He taught against prejudice (Luke 10:25-37.) He suffered himself (Mark 10:34: “And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”). He surrounded himself with many different types of people rather than limit his worldview (Mark 2:15).
Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Calvin and I had open conversations about race before getting married, but the frequency and depth of our conversations expanded immensely in the height of 2020 with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others whose names are so much more than a hashtag.
We shared our pain and sense of feeling at a loss for words or what to do. I encouraged him to share his feelings, and I listened. His perspective was one that I hadn’t expected. I anticipated more blatant rage and expression of feelings, but through our discussions, I learned that his way of dealing with the pain of this continual racial injustice was to suppress it. The repetitive exhaustion of dealing with the pain led to pushing it away, numbing it. I could not and would never understand his perspective and experiences and the full depth of his pain, but I sure as hell would try my best.
As a white woman with countless advantages, I had been untouched by issues of race for most of my life, and now I was in the middle of it.
I know that my pain was nothing compared to the deep-seated nature of Calvin’s, and it felt unfair that Calvin was the one comforting me during this movie that shattered my reality. I felt like I was newly born, letting myself fully feel suffering and outrage. Part of my intentional self-education to dig into the depth of my privilege and work to unravel foundational racist beliefs involved participating in conversations with other black friends and consuming stories from black people about their experiences with micro and macro-aggressions.
It was at this point that I really discovered what living in a racist society meant for myself and my future family. So many new concerns and questions flooded my mind:
We would have to be strategic about where we lived. Would it be OK for my husband to go on a run alone? What if he got pulled over and a racist officer was in a bad mood? I barely let my mind wander to the possibility of something happening to my husband due to the color of his skin, but it’s also impossible and unwise not to be aware of that sobering possibility.
Calvin and I wanted to have kids, and while I had thought about how confusing and painful it was going to be for my future kids to grow up as mixed, fitting neither completely as “black” or as “white,” and knowing that they may undergo racism, I had not once thought about teaching my future son what to do and not do, say and not say if he ever got pulled over by the police, not to put his hands in his pockets while at a store…etc. Never. Not once. Living in my white privilege, the sheer magnitude of racism was not a reality I had been exposed to growing up. And now, anxiety over the safety of my husband and future children plagued my thoughts.
While it’s not emotionally healthy to dwell on “what-ifs,” I am grateful that I am more alert and aware than I’ve ever been about the racist world that we live in and how that could impact my family. As much as I want to put my arms around them like a shield to protect them, I know that ultimately I can’t count on myself. I can educate myself and spread awareness to others who are contributing (intentionally or not) to racism in our broken world, but I need to lean on God for protection, comfort, and strength.
I have a place in the racial injustice conversation. Yes, I am a white woman who has never and will never understand the pain and suffering and day-to-day experience of living in a black or brown body, but now I hold this “in-between” role, in which I am also close to the black experience in a way that I never would have expected. This unique positioning provides me with an opportunity that I cannot and will not ignore. I can’t guarantee that all my words and actions from this point on will be “perfect” or planned out. What I CAN say for certain is that I can no longer turn away in ignorance and shield my eyes with my privilege.
1 John 3:15-16
Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
If you are white like me, you might not have a black spouse, family member, or even friend, and you may be wondering where your place is in the racial injustice movement. This conversation is not limited to those of us with close relationships with those who are black.
Maybe you need to get closer to the problem to see it. Maybe you need to let yourself feel it enough to allow yourself to be compelled to be a part of the solution. Take a second and really think: how could you get closer to it? How could you intentionally feel the pain of it, so it moves you? Even if it’s just starting by watching a movie or pursuing friendships with people who look different than you.
We are all allowed to feel (and I strongly encourage you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes), and we are NEEDED to speak. We cannot rely on our black brothers and sisters to be the bearers of the burden. We need to show that we are not complicit in the reality of systemic racism, and we need to take a stand that we are against it and that we want to change. Otherwise, no change will come.